Job Application Tactics

People typically take the more traditional route when applying for jobs: filling out a resume with the necessary education, experience, and skills and typing up a professional, well-worded cover letter. There are some risks you just shouldn’t take in your career, at least before making it into the office. However, with unemployment dropping to the lowest rate in 50 years and an increasingly competitive job market, not taking the appropriate risks can cause resumes to be buried among the rest. Standing out is more important than ever, but how are people achieving this?

From nontraditional resumes to stunts and gimmicks during the interview, taking risks to stand out during the job hiring process can either pay off – or not. We surveyed over 500 hiring managers and over 500 applicants who’d vied for at least one job in the last year to see how successful taking an unusual path toward getting hired can be. Keep reading to see which strategies work and which may prevent you from landing the job.

Coming Prepared

Resumes used to be the end-all, be-all for job applicants, and while they’re still important, recruiters are putting more emphasis on vetting through LinkedIn. Despite this online transition, surveyed applicants spent the most time sprucing up the experience section of their resume. While there is no single winner regarding education versus experience – it truly depends on the industry – hiring managers reported spending just 16.4 minutes reviewing a resume. Considering applicants spent nearly four times longer preparing their resume, they may benefit from spending more time practicing interview questions and writing a catchy cover letter.

Switching focus from the resume to the cover letter and interview preparation – two things just 15.3% and 12.7% of applicants focused on the most, respectively – are among the top ways to stand out among the rest. Hiring managers reported receiving an average of 34 applications per job listing but only vetted 12.6 for consideration, so having a strong cover letter can boost your chances of being seen. And once you’ve landed the interview, coming prepared with questions and appropriate answers can set you apart. However, there is a fine line between preparation and appearing too desperate to snag the job. Trying too hard to sell yourself could backfire.

Knowing What’s Important

Knowing what is and isn’t important to hiring managers is crucial, and for some aspects of the hiring process, applicants and hiring managers are far from on the same page. While applicants considered years of experience as the most impactful, hiring managers were more concerned with the personality of the interviewee in determining whether they got the job. Similarly, applicants undervalued the impact of asking smart questions during an interview – an easy tactic that is sure to impress.

On the other hand, applicants significantly overvalued knowing someone at the company and submitting a unique cover letter. While it is often about whom you know, hiring managers aren’t always likely to consider connections in their decision-making. And writing a cover letter that stands out from the rest can help catch a recruiter’s eye, but making it too unique isn’t going to get an applicant brownie points. Instead, it could turn a hiring manager away.

Standing Out

There are certain risks people should take in the workplace if they want to succeed, but they can be intimidating. Staying on the safe side seems to be the norm for most employees, with only 16% of job applicants thinking stunts and gimmicks were acceptable and under 20% thinking they were effective. While their hesitancy is likely due to the assumption that hiring managers won’t like unique or risky moves, hiring managers were more likely than applicants to view stunts and gimmicks as acceptable. 

Out of the Ordinary

While the majority of applicants thought stunts and gimmicks are unacceptable, 13% had used an unusual strategy during the job application process – and sometimes, they paid off. Over 55% of people who had tried them said their unusual strategy was received positively, and nearly 70% landed the job they wanted.


It’s difficult to know whether an unusual strategy will get you hired or shown the door, but some tactics are worth the risk depending on the industry and company. Some tactics, though, like showing up unannounced or sending photos and videos to the office, can easily cross the line – taking a stunt from unique and creative to risky and uncomfortable.

Tried and Tested?

How do hiring managers view specific applicant strategies, and which are applicants most likely to carry out to get the job? On the more positive side of tactics, hiring managers deemed enduring extreme weather to hand-deliver a resume as the most positive stunt, followed by showcasing skills without being asked. Sending baked goods to the office and even printing a resume on a cake were on the positive side, while persistent emails, home deliveries, and offering to sleep with the hiring manager were the most negatively ranked. 

Surprisingly, applicants weren’t the least likely to offer to sleep with the hiring manager. Instead, they were the most likely to avoid doing a backflip into the interview room, along with sending a chair to the company with a note that asks, “Is there a seat for me?” Thankfully, applicants were the most likely to perform stunts that hiring managers ranked positively – showcasing skills without being asked topped the chart, followed by hand-delivering a resume through extreme weather and sending baked goods to the interviewer’s office.

Unfortunately, applicants were also likely to email their resume to the hiring manager every day until they got a response – a stunt that hiring managers didn’t like. Persistence may be a positive trait, but annoying a hiring manager isn’t going to get an applicant far. Being aware of the best days to submit a resume, on the other hand, can help ensure notice without pushing the envelope. 

Take a Risk

Taking the traditional route during the hiring process may be a safe bet, but applicants run the risk of being overlooked by hiring managers. Catching a manager’s eye can be as simple as a strong cover letter or your personality in an interview, yet job hunters continue to go above and beyond to stand out. Stunts and gimmicks like enduring extreme weather and sending baked goods to the office are risks most likely to work out in the applicant’s favor, but it’s best to stray from incessant emails, getting too personal, and crossing professional boundaries.

When taking a risk and going down the unusual route, keep in mind the industry and culture of the company. While some may be a bit more receptive to stunts, others may prefer the more traditional applicant. Regardless of the industry or position, SimplyHired has them all. Just enter a job title, skill, or specific company, along with the location of your choice, and browse millions of job openings tailored to your wants and needs. To learn more, visit us online today. 

Methodology

We conducted two separate surveys for this study. One of 503 people who had applied to at least one job in the last year and another of 504 hiring managers. 

The job applicant respondents were 50.9% men and 48.3% women. An additional 0.4% identified as nonbinary, and another 0.4% did not disclose their gender. The average age of these respondents was 34 with a standard deviation of 10.1. The margin of error based on the total U.S. population was 4% with a 95% confidence level. 

The hiring manager respondents were 55.4% men and 44% women. An additional 0.4% identified as nonbinary, and 0.2% did not disclose their gender. The average age of the hiring managers was 36 with a standard deviation of 10.5. The margin of error based on the total employed U.S. population was 4% with a 95% confidence level. 

Job applicants were asked to report the amount of cumulative time they spent preparing their resume for their most recent job application. The final number presented in this study was calculated to exclude outliers. This was done by first finding the initial average and standard deviation. The standard deviation was then multiplied by three and added to the initial average. Any data point above that sum was then excluded. The same process was done when calculating the average amount of time hiring managers reported reviewing a single resume. 

When asked about job application factors and their impact on the chances of being hired, job applicants and hiring managers were given the following rating scale:

  • Very positively impacts (7)
  • Moderately positively impacts (6) 
  • Somewhat positively impacts (5)
  • Neutral (4)
  • Somewhat negatively impacts (3)
  • Moderately negatively impacts (2)
  • Very negatively impacts (1)

Based on the numeric values of the ratings, each application factor was given an average impact score. These average scores were then compared between job applicants and hiring managers to see which group thought which factors were more impactful.

The same method was used to determine the example stunts that hiring managers viewed most positively or negatively and what example stunts job applicants reported being most likely to do. The hiring managers were given the same scale used for rating application factors. Job applicants were given the following likelihood scale:

  • Not at all likely (1)
  • Slightly likely (2)
  • Somewhat likely (3)
  • Moderately likely (4)
  • Extremely likely (5)

When asked how acceptable they thought stunts and gimmicks in the job application process were, both hiring managers and job applicants were given the following scale:

  • Totally unacceptable
  • Unacceptable
  • Slightly unacceptable
  • Neutral
  • Slightly acceptable
  • Acceptable
  • Totally acceptable


These were then combined into three groups in our final visualization of the data: acceptable (grouping of slightly acceptable, acceptable, and totally acceptable), neither acceptable nor unacceptable, and unacceptable (grouping of totally unacceptable, unacceptable, slightly unacceptable). 

Limitations

The data presented in this study rely on self-reporting. Common issues with self-reported data include selective memory and exaggeration. For example, when reporting the time spent on preparing their resumes, applicants could have exaggerated the amount of time they spent on it. Hiring managers also could have done this when reporting how long they spent reviewing resumes.

Fair Use Statement

Standing out among a stack of similar job candidates can be difficult, and not all strategies for getting noticed are created equal. If you know someone struggling through the job application process, feel free to share this study with them for any noncommercial reuse. Please link back here so that they can view the full study and its methodology.